The beauty of illustration is the creative freedom it bestows upon the artist, providing him or her with an unlimited ability to explore anything and anywhere at anytime. As a result, it serves as the perfect vehicle for a cinematic franchise built on a mixture of science fiction and fantasy. Star Wars and comic books, then, are a match made in heaven. Arguably, the dynamic nature of the Star Wars films might pose a barrier to translation, but only so far as an image fails to pick up speed through one’s own imagination. It is the illustration’s ability to speak without words which endow it with the power to convey stories of those who do not speak or speak in ways we cannot decipher. In this manner, it is unsurprising that the five issue limited series Chewbacca excels in telling a story of our favorite wookie.
Set shortly after the Battle of Yavin, Chewbacca is written by Gerry Duggan and illustrated by Phil Noto. Both bring top notch skill to the story and begin it not with Chewbacca, but with an introduction to the series other major character, Zarro. She’s a young teenager, native of the planet, and her father has become the victim of a loan shark with bigger plans named Jaum, forcing the both of them to toil in the planet’s mines. Her father carries the quiet demeanor of one resigned to one’s fate with a misplaced belief that the world will right itself. His daughter views the situation as it is, Jaum has forced multitudes who are indebted to him into a state of slavery. Her father manages to smuggle Zarro out, at which point she steals a speeder from Jaum and heads to the local authorities. In pursuit are Jaum’s henchmen gradually closing in on their boss’ missing asset. Elsewhere, a wookie lies in a bed of flowers.
Chewbacca abides. Nearby is an A-wing which has plowed to a stop in the ground. Just as Marvel’s Vader had an onus to accurately illustrate the Lord of the Sith (an incredibly easy thing not to do), Chewbacca has the burden of skillfully presenting the hairiest crewmember of the Millennium Falcon, which governs everything from the fall of his long hair to the colorful brown and black patches of his coat. This the series does well throughout, enjoying a highly competent level of artwork which makes every page an enjoyable moment. Chewbacca’s moment of relaxation concludes with him receiving bad news from his A-wing’s computer, forcing him to seek a replacement part in the nearby town. By chance, the junk dealer he visits is engaged in ripping off Zarro as she tries to sell Jaum’s speeder. While their paths cross, they do so without interaction. That happens in a saloon where Chewbacca interrupts a meal to hide her from Jaum’s men. It’s the beginning of a wonderful, if short lived, partnership.
Zarro cannot speak wookie and so a language barrier exists between her and Chewbacca, leaving communication one sided in terms of non-wookie talking and Zarro having to interpret Chewie’s roars, growls, and so on, in the same manner that we the audience might do when he’s on the movie screen. We have a slight edge on Zarro, we know Chewbacca’s background and as Zarro tries to convince Chewbacca to help her, she makes assumptions about the wookie we know to be obviously off. For his part, Chewbacca attempts to stress that he must deliver a box he has somewhere off planet and cannot stay. Then, Zarro complains, “Nobody cares that a poison-breathing, evil-scheming gross slug named Jaum has enslaved us! Do you know what that means? To be a slave?” Chewbacca most definitely does.
While Jaum plots to sell the planet’s resources and those enslaved by his schemes to the Empire, Zarro and Chewie hatch a plan to liberate her father and friends from the mines. The plan is two-fold. Zarro will allow herself to be recaptured for the purpose of bringing a tracking device into the mines which are in the midst of a warren of confusing bug tunnels (the bugs create the minerals being mined). Topside, Chewie will climb down an airshaft using his tracking device to reach Zarro and the other slaves. Once there, revolt! The plan works, but not before Chewbacca has to overcome his own reluctance to enter tight spaces – which results in a flashback to his own time in Imperial slavery. There is no dialogue to the flashback, just poignant frames of wookies captured and imprisoned by the Empire. This is not enough to stop Chewbacca, however, and he enters the narrow airshaft to continue the mission.
Eventually he finds his way to Zarro, her father and the rest of the miners. What follows is a delicious series of frames dedicated to Chewbacca being the incredible warrior we know him to be, even using a gonk droid to bonk guards of the mines. Success is within grasp as Chewbacca emerges from the mouth of the mine, prepared to finish off Jaum’s men after dealing with every barrier raised to stop him and the revolting slaves. Then they detonate explosives immediately next to Chewie and he disappears in an explosive cloud of debris.
Our wookie survives, but he, Zarro, and the others must find another way out of the mines, and a way around the aforementioned bugs, drawn by the explosion. The latter are dealt with by Chewie shooting one of the highly explosive creatures, causing the mine’s ceiling to collapse and temporarily blocking the path of the insectoid hordes. And the other, it happens to be a sinkhole which appears impossible to climb, but as we have learned, don’t tell a wookie he can’t do the impossible. Chewbacca scales the sinkhole and lowers a rope to provide an avenue for everyone else. The slaves are free, but Zarro, despite her father’s wishes, has one more goal left, to stop Jaum from making his deal with the Empire. The stakes have risen from the souls of the miners to the fate of the planet, itself, and she continues to draw the furry rebel into the mission.
The pair travel to the nearby spaceport where Zarro introduces Chewbacca to a tech dealer and the wookie takes an interest in a deactivated droid.
Elsewhere, one of the slaves is captured by Jaum’s men, alerting him to their escape and leading him to contact the Empire with a plea for assistance in crushing the nascent rebellion. Unsurprisingly, the Empire is always happy to indulge in the business of destroying freedoms.
With the help of the tech dealer, Chewie and Zarro infiltrate the landing pad where Jaum is preparing to take an Imperial shuttle up to a newly arrived star destroyer. Dressed as a giant droid, Chewbacca plays Ned Kelly, using the droid’s covering like metal armor against Imperial troopers. While the Millenium Falcon’s crewman wrecks havoc among the Imperials, Zarro manages to get the now activated droid, packed full of explosives, from earlier aboard the shuttle with no one the wiser. Jaum departs in the same shuttle, threatening the might of the Empire in response. For a brief moment, our heroes believe their plan only an exploding star destroyer away from a ringing success until they find themselves at the wrong end of Imperial blasters. Captured, they are sent on their way up to the same star destroyer as Jaum.
Fortunately for Chewbacca and Zarro, they find the captain of the ship awaiting them upon arrival and immediately spin a tale that Jaum is a rebel spy, intent on delivering a droid full of explosives onto the star destroyer. Conveniently, there’s a droid full of explosives nearby for the captain to see before it explodes. Before Jaum can appear on the scene to dissuade the ship’s captain from this alternative telling of history, he’s convinced that there are no minerals worth the Empire’s attention on the planet. The explosion of the fatefully named droid, Boomer, takes out the force field separating the hangar bay from the vacuum of space. The captain and Jaum find safety in a turbolift, while Chewie and Zarro escape the ship in a nearby TIE bomber. They return to the same flowery field from the beginning of the story and Jaum finds himself in a detention cell with a highly unpleasant roommate, an interrogation droid.
It’s a time of parting between Zarro and Chewbacca. When Zarro wistfully wishes they could enjoy some accolades for saving the planet, Chewbacca plucks a very familiar medal from the cockpit of his A-wing and places it around her neck. It’s the same medal Princess Leia bestowed upon Luke Skywalker and Han Solo at the end of A New Hope, and noticeably, not on Chewbacca. While there have been various explanations to this oversight, such as Chewbacca simply being too tall for Leia, the new Expanded Universe is gifted with this moment. Chewbacca received his medal after all, and almost just as quickly turns around and gives it to another. He must return to his original mission and the pair bid farewell to each other, Zarro returning to her father and Chewie off to Kashyyyk.
On his home planet, Chewbacca makes his way to a home filled with fellow wookies of varying sizes, ages, and appearance. The box from earlier, it turns out, contained the bandolier of a falling wookie. Who the wookie was in relation to Chewbacca is not clear, but given the visual cues, we can assume it was a relative or close family friend. Perhaps intentionally, and thankfully, there’s no mention of Life Day or a son named Lumpy (there is a very close Lumpy look-a-like, but he or she appears to be the son of the fallen wookie). The series closes with the Millennium Falcon hovering above Chewbacca, Han ready to pick up his friend, and for Chewie prepared to return to the fight against the Empire.
Chewbacca is a beautifully illustrated and well written story about our favorite wookie co-pilot. Together, writer Gerry Duggan and artist Phil Noto, capture the essence of Chewbacca, from his force of nature determination to the small physical expressions that have endeared him to us up through The Force Awakens. Effectively playing the role of the wandering cowboy or samurai, Chewie finds himself unintentionally pulled into a struggle to play the savior of the helpless against a local villain. Zarro, his co-conspirator, is a fleshed out character who enlivens the story with her presence. Marvel’s Chewbacca is some of the best of the new line of comics from the Disney owned comic book publisher and an enjoyment for any Star Wars fan who might peruse its pages.